The federal government’s pow-wow with unions and business groups will kick off early next week as Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter confirms the cabinet will force through workplace law changes irrespective of any definitive agreements.
Porter has been doing the rounds explaining the wide-ranging IR consultations first outlined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in his speech to the National Press Club on Tuesday.
As expected, the five working groups will focus on specific areas: casual worker entitlements, wage theft, greenfield agreements, enterprise agreements and the modern award system.
The groups will be comprised of about 15 people each and are being formed at the moment. It is still unclear how small businesses will be represented directly, although both the Council of Small Businesses Australia (COSBOA), the Australian Small and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) are expected to take part.
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Speaking to the 7.30 report on Wednesday evening, Porter said the groups will be laser-focused on known issues inhibiting job creation.
“They’re designed to deal with specific known problems in the system, which all of the parties I think agree either inhibit job growth or job creation,” he said.
“There are known problems inside the system: how we define casuals, the enterprise bargaining system being slow and cumbersome, new major investment projects not being able to have an enterprise agreement for the life of the project, awards being incredibly complicated with multiple pain points.”
It came as the SMH reported Porter will pursue workplace law reform with or without the agreement of the working groups, setting the stage for changes to the Fair Work Act irrespective of the outcome.
Small business advocates are expected to focus their attention on the modern award working group and will argue for a drastic simplification of the system.
The prospect that a small business award — which would provide SMEs with an opportunity to escape much of the bureaucracy associated with the existing system — has been raised and will be discussed as part of the consultations.
But while unions groups have indicated a willingness to co-operate with business groups on industrial relations reform, Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus has warned they will not accept changes which erode pay and conditions for workers.
Any proposal for a separate small business award is thus likely going to need to be paired back to an extent.